Rudolph Valentino – An Icon To This Day

Walter Film has acquired a collection of vintage original studio photographs of Rudolph Valentino from Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse (1921), Camille (1921) with Alla Nazimova, A Sainted Devil (1924) See Image AboveThe Son Of The Sheik (1926) and a hand tinted lobby card from the film that made him an international star, The Sheik (1921).

Who Was Rudolph Valentino?

Rudolph Valentino was an Italian American film actor. After immigrating to the United States in 1913, Valentino moved to Hollywood, taking up small film roles until he landed his breakout role as Julio in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921). Idolized as the “Great Lover” of the 1920s, he starred in several romantic dramas, including The Sheik (1921), Blood and Sand (1922) and The Eagle (1925).

Four Horseman Of The Apocalypse (1926)

The mania around Valentino grew so rapidly that some women reportedly fainted when they saw him in The Sheik. This desert romance told the story of a Bedouin chief who wins over a cultured, Anglo woman (Agnes Ayres). The following year, Valentino had another stellar success with Blood and Sand. This time around, he played bullfighter Juan Gallardo who falls under the spell of a charming seductress Dona Sol (Nita Naldi).

Son-Of-The-Sheik Staring Rudolph Valentino - Walter Film
Son Of The Sheik with Vilma Banky (1926)

On a promotional tour for The Son of the Sheik, Valentino became ill. He was taken to a New York hospital, where he had surgery on August 15, 1926, to treat acute appendicitis and ulcers. In the days after the surgery, Valentino developed an infection known as peritonitis. The 31-year-old actor’s health quickly began to decline, and his devoted fans swamped the hospital’s phone lines with calls for the ailing star. Valentino died nearly a week after entering the hospital, on August 23, 1926. His last words were, “Don’t worry, chief, I will be all right.”

Alla Nazimova & Rudolph Valentino in Camille (1921)

Valentino was given a grand send-off. For three days, thousands crowded a funeral home to view his body and say good-bye to the romantic idol. Then two funerals were held — one in New York and one in California. Actresses Mary Pickford and Gloria Swanson were among the mourners. 

Rudolph[h Valentino & Vilma Banki in "The Sheik"
Rudolph Valentino & Agnes Ayres in The Sheik (1921)

A Gay Blade Or Straight Arrow?

Questions about Valentino’s sexual preference (although that’s not what it was called in the 1920’s) were a sub-rosa reality of his life and career and have been gossiped and written about ever since.

Today, no one would deny that Valentino is consider a gay icon. He was a gorgeous hunk of a guy with an interesting and appealing personality. Over the years his good looks and on-screen persona, as well as the legend of his tragic early death, has gained him admirers on both sides of the aisle. But was he gay? Or, it might be asked, was he straight but open to sexual experiences with men?

Regardless of his preferences, Rudolph Valentino had a magical and elusive quality that made him a legend. He possessed a tremendous charisma that shined through his appearances on the big screen. And his early death has only fueled his status as a revered pop icon.

References: The Biography.comHuffpost, Thomas Gladysz, Contributor